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review 2013-10-07 00:51
Again! Again!
Her Best Worst Mistake - Sarah Mayberry

Back before we had kids and thus sometimes had time to watch movies, every once in a while my wife and I would watch something that made us both so happy that when we came to the end, one of us would cry, "Again! Again!" and we'd start the movie over again. That was me with this book: I read the last page, then turned immediately to page one and read it all over. It's a quick enough read that I could read it twice in one day (I was home on maternity leave). 


Violet is Elizabeth's best friend; Martin is Elizabeth's fiancé. Apart from Elizabeth, they have nothing in common and can't stand each other: he's stuffy and conservative, she's reckless and impulsive. When Elizabeth calls off the engagement and flees to Australia, though, Martin and Violet unexpectedly find solace--and heat, and eventually love--together.


Usually books where the main characters start off fighting like cats and dogs don't do anything for me: either the initial animosity seems contrived just to set up dramatic conflict, or it seems too pat and simplistic that people who were at each other's throats should suddenly fall for one another. This story avoids those pitfalls: the animosity to rapprochement is deftly and believably plotted in a way that allows both Vi and Martin to be true to their characters.

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review 2013-10-06 21:35
This One Pushed the Feminist Rage Buttons
Tangled - Emma Chase

I'm really torn about how to review this. I have to give Emma Chase some credit: this was like no other romance I've ever read. It's told entirely from the first person POV of the male protagonist, Drew Evans, and he's talking to you, the reader. I also give Chase credit because, while Drew is an unapologetic asshat most of the time, his character is believable and fully developed.


Most of the other reviews are five stars, and I get that. Tangled is appealing because it's so unique. The pacing of the plot is perfect. The dialogue is fast and sharp. Kate is sassy, smart, and independent. Drew is charming and funny.


Here's the thing, though. Sociopaths and wife beaters can also be charming and funny, yet, like Drew, they are often manipulative, misogynistic, self-centered, immature bastards. Drew is a manwhore, and women are objects for his sexual gratification. He tells us right off the bat that he generally doesn't even bother to learn their names. His narrative is full of jawdroppingly anti-feminist and anti-gay quips (I didn't start keeping track until I was more than halfway through the book, but I highlighted at least a dozen examples of misogyny and homophobia in the last half alone.) He refers to his sister as The Bitch (though she's nothing but good to him.) He derisively refers to chick-flicks like "The Notebook" as "totally gay." The things he says to Kate at work blatantly cross the line into sexual harassment territory, and he knows it, but doesn't worry because he's confident she likes him and won't rat him out. Drew knows he's being crass, but thinks he should get away with it because, the way he sees it, he's just telling it like it is.


Even when he falls in love with Kate and has to win her over, he's totally manipulative. They work together. Drew is the boss's son and the firm's well established Golden Boy; she is a brand new, entry level associate, an uneven power dynamic that makes his behavior all the more reprehensible. When she spurns him, he arranges a series of highly visible and disruptive stunts AT THE OFFICE to change her mind, apparently not knowing or caring that the last thing a newly-hired, professional woman trying to build a career needs is to have her personal relationships be made into a sideshow at work. Outside of romance novel fantasyland, Drew's behavior would likely get Kate fired and him slapped with a restraining order.


Other reviews talk about how funny Drew is, but mostly it's a mean spirited humor, reminiscent of a witty high schooler shoring up his own popularity by making jokes at others' expense. Bottom line: I can see what others liked about this book, but too much about it made my skin crawl.

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review 2013-10-06 20:19
Better Than Expected Romantic Suspense
Something About You - Julie James

The mystery-as-plot-device is one of the most common tropes in romance, and my absolute least favorite. In Regencies, the lovers come together while eavesdropping behind potted palms in crowded ballrooms, trying to solve the murder of Lord Whosiewhatsis. In steampunks, the lovers come together while tinkering with futuristic devices designed to unmask a spy who threatens the reign of Queen Victoria. In paranormals, the lovers come together in a remote castle in a creepy primeval forest as they try to figure out which group of rival spooks--witches or demons or werechickens or whatever--is responsible for killing the leader of the Vampyre hordes. And then there 's contemporary romantic suspense, and without even cracking the cover you know there's gonna be murder and mayhem and a hot ex-military crime fighter who acts all broody and tough while falling for the smart-mouthed heroine as they exchange snarky banter over bloodsplattered corpses while investigating the latest spate of gruesome serial killings. Snore. I'm a prosecutor: I get enough crime and punishment at work, thank you very much.


Needless to say, I don't read a lot of romantic suspense. I don't like mystery with my romance, and more than any other subgenre, contemporary romantic suspense is steeped in half-baked subplots about murders and rapists and drug dealers and mob bosses, etc., and once you peel away the layers of the criminal underworld, there's often not much romance left to enjoy.


However, one of my goals with this blog is to become a more educated and mindful consumer of romance, and that means setting aside my personal prejudices as a reader and delving into subgenres I don't ordinarily enjoy. I chose Julie James for this foray into the category of romantic suspense because, based on reviews I'd read, her work promised to be more funny than dark, which I hoped meant that the crime-fighting subplot would not overshadow the romance. As it turns out, I chose well: I liked this book more than I expected.


Cameron Lynde is an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago who prosecutes organized crime cases. She's a bit of a wunderkind, having worked her way up to lead all of the other attorneys in her division in trial wins in just four years. (I rolled my eyes and willingly suspended my disbelief at that: four years is not long, in the life of a litigator, especially since complicated RICO cases can stagnate in the courts for ages.) When the story begins, she's treating herself to a night in a swanky hotel, except she's not getting the R&R she'd hoped for because the couple in the adjoining room keep her up all night having noisy, wallbanging sex. She finally complains to the management (peeking out her peephole to watch as the male party to the booty call leaves), and when hotel security finds a dead prostitute in the next room, Cameron finds herself an earwitness to murder.


Special Agent Jack Pallas has a history with Cameron, and not a good one. Three years ago, she dismissed a case against a mobster that he'd spent two years undercover trying to build. He was so angry about it, he badmouthed her to the press, which got him transferred to Nebraska and almost derailed his career. Of course, the very instant he comes back to Chicago, he catches a case where she's the prime witness. Such is the set up for an opposites attract/enemies-to-lovers romance (which may be the only trope more common than mystery-as-plot-device).


As I'd hoped, the mystery remains very much backstory to the romance. Indeed, it isn't so much a mystery at all, since the reader learns the killer's identity in the first third of the book, though suspense continues to build because Cameron remains in danger until the killer is caught. To my relief, Cameron didn't try to slip away from her police guard to do something boneheaded or reckless, the way some Too Stupid to Live heroines might. I liked that Ms. James was able to write Cameron's character in a way that recognized her vulnerability as an endangered witness without making her weak or ridiculous. Cameron didn't seem to view police protection as a threat to her independence, but neither did she hole up in her house like a scared little mouse: she managed to maintain most of her routines and social obligations even while cooperating with the officers charged with guarding her.


I'm often particularly leery of mystery subplots in contemporary romance because authors usually make appalling gaffes in police or courtroom procedure, and since I'm pretty familiar with the criminal justice process, those blunders just jar me out of my enjoyment of the story. (NOTE TO AUTHORS: I am happy to volunteer my editing services to review your manuscripts to help you avoid the kinds of errors that will make the cops and lawyers and constitutional scholars in your audience want to throw your book at the wall in frustration.) Though parts of this story inspired my professional skepticism--the meteoric rise of Cameron's career, the notion that the national news would give a flying fig what Jack said about Cameron three years ago when she dismissed his RICO case--I can forgive those because they moved the plot along. There was only one procedural error that drew my ire--Jack totally bungles a photo lineup by telling Cameron which of the pictures depict suspects in the crime, before giving her the chance to spontaneously recognize anyone--and it was fleeting enough that I quickly got over it.


I really enjoyed the character development and witty dialogue. Cameron and Jack are sarcastic and snarky and sharp, especially at the beginning when they're still angry about their shared history, but they don't cross that line into being so mean to each other that their eventual romance is hard to swallow. The supporting characters, especially Jack's partner Agent Wilkins, and Cameron's best friend Collin, are also well-rounded and given great conversational zingers.


I also found it refreshing that Jack, not Cameron, is the first to start thinking about their developing relationship as something he'd like to see continue for the long-term. After they sleep together, Jack reflects that:


Nearly thirty-five years old, he wasn't exactly innocent--he'd slept with his fair share of women, some he'd even met while working undercover. But all of his relationships had been casual--and he'd made that abundantly clear going into them. In the past, he'd always used his job as an excuse to avoid getting serious with anyone. Now he realized that with the right person, he wouldn't want the excuse.


Jack leaned in, whispering her name softly. He knew he was a greedy, selfish bastard to wake her up, but he loved the reassurance of their intimacy, what it said about their relationship without either of them actually having to say it.



(Loc. 4152)


Seriously, most contemporary romance heroes cut from the alpha-male, military special forces, law enforcement tough guy mold would break out in hives before thinking about things like getting serious and "reassurance of intimacy" after a single sexual encounter, amIright?


Bottom line: I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, and I'm looking forward to reading more from Julie James -- though I intend to do it slowly, in case the rest of the series pushes my anti-romantic-suspense buttons harder than this book did.

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review 2013-10-06 19:28
Trouble Turning Off the Inner Skeptic
About That Night - Julie James

I had a really hard time tuning out my Inner Skeptic as I read this. Kyle and Rylann (pet peeve: characters with names I can't pronounce) met nine years ago at a bar in grad school. They made a date, but Kyle's mom died and he couldn't keep it. Somehow, they both still remember the night they met after all this time.


Fast forward to present day: Rylann is an ambitious federal prosecutor who has just relocated to Chicago after breaking up with the guy she thought she'd marry. She is organized and driven and likes to make Life Plans. Kyle is a computer genius who got dumped, got drunk, and hacked into Twitter, shutting it down for two days and breaking a slew of Federal laws. He's just been released from jail because his sister cooperated with the FBI in exchange for a reduction in his sentence... something Rylann says out loud in court during Kyle's re-sentencing hearing.


That's when my Inner Skeptic started to cringe. I'm a prosecutor, too, and when prosecutors say in open court, on the record, "So-and-so cooperated with the cops," So-and-so runs an unreasonably high risk of winding up dead. The identity of a cooperating witness would never be so cavalierly exposed.


The main romantic conflict between the couple is that, as a big shot Assistant U.S. Attorney, Rylann just can't date an ex-con, especially not a hacker ex-con like Kyle. And that's true: she can't. She'd lose the respect of her boss and coworkers, the cops and agents she works with, the defense attorneys she goes up against. She'd probably lose whatever security clearance she has as a Federal employee, and then she'd lose her job. Someone as driven and ambitious as Rylann would never, ever risk it... But of course she does, and of course the fallout is nothing like as bad as she'd feared, and they all live HAE.


I call bullshit.

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review 2013-10-06 19:15
3,000-Year-Old Vampire King + Teenage Hillbilly = Comic Genius
Lothaire (Immortals After Dark, #12) - Kresley Cole

I haven't read any of the rest of the Immortals After Dark series, and probably won't (at least not soon), because paranormal romance/urban fantasy is something I only like in small doses. That said, I liked Lothaire fairly well.


Synopsis: Lothaire is a 3,000 year old born (not turned) vampire with ambitions to rule not one but two vampire races: the Daci, a throne to which he is heir through his poor, martyred mama; and the Horde, a throne to which he aspires through his father, though Lothaire is illegitimate and thus the Horde will not accept his rule without a fight. Ellie is a 19-year-old hillbilly from Appalachia who has to drop out of college (where she'd have been the first of her family to graduate) when she becomes possessed by Saroya, a murderous soul-reaping ex-deity who has lost her own body through a curse and thus must live by possessing others. Ellie and Saroya fight for primacy, each surfacing when the other doesn't wish, and each having no consciousness of what the other does while in control. (Saroya enjoys wreaking murder and mayhem, and then retreating in time to let Ellie deal with the bloodbath; Ellie enjoys sex, and then retreating in time to disgust the frigid Saroya with the earthy aftermath.)


Lothaire is told by an oracle where and when to find his Bride, and so he goes to Appalachia and finds Ellie/Saroya. The encounter begins the Blooding (the mating process), but Lothaire doesn't know whether his fated mate is Ellie or Saroya. Due to his hatred of mortals (neatly explained in the tragic prologue), Lothaire proudly assumes his Bride must be Saroya (because fate wouldn't be so cruel as to pair a wealthy, powerful, urbane, sophisticated Vampire king with a teenage hillbilly who lives in a trailer and speaks in a hick accent), and he makes an unbreakable vow to help Saroya evict and destroy Ellie's soul so Saroya can keep her body forever. (Yeah, anytime you see "unbreakable vow," you just know someone's going to come to regret that, right?) Sure enough, the more he gets to know Ellie, the better he likes her, and the less he likes Saroya, until finally he realizes his mistake.


The Good: Lothaire and Ellie are such a fantastically mismatched pair, but they work! Especially Ellie. Ellie is a hillbilly, but she's not stupid. Everyone always underestimates her, and she uses that to her advantage. As she puts it, she is "the sucker punch you never saw coming." Lothaire's character arc -- from his prejudice against Ellie and all mortals to his eventual choice of and commitment to her -- is slow in coming but so satisfying. And the sex is hot (though the early scenes skirt the very edge of rapey-ness because Lothaire is so powerful and Ellie basically has to seduce him in order to have any hope of survival, the ickiness of which is only sort of overcome because Ellie really does enjoy what she's doing). Cole's writing is funny, especially her dialogue: Lothaire and Ellie (and some of the other characters) get some hilarious one-liners.


The Not-So-Good: The aforementioned uneven power dynamic between Lothaire and Ellie: in addition to injecting an uncomfortable level of coercion into their early sexual encounters, the bottom line is that Lothaire does some really unforgivable things to Ellie, and though she does forgive him (sort of), it doesn't sit well with this Gentle Reader. Also, I found that the plot seemed kind of bogged down in summarizing back story from previous books in the series or setting up for sequels. I found all that distracting and also felt it made the book too long, but maybe that's just because I haven't read the rest of the series.




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